Shakespeare’s tempest is a generally happy play. There are some dark moments, highlighted by monstrous figures, but the play maintains an overall feel of comedy and lightheartedness. The characters, Prospero, Ariel and Caliban are of most interest to me as their contrasting differences and interactions make for very interesting reading.
Prospero, is a good man, but similar to Odysseus, he is a bit of a trickster and can be quite cunning. After all, he uses his magic to ground his brother onto his island and scatter them (though I admit, he did have good reason). His conversation on servitude with Ariel at the beginning also shows that he can be very firm on some topics and is not afraid of using veiled threats or manipulating feelings of debt. There are many times, when I think his cunning and magic are used very well. Such as when he is spying on his daughter… which is a breach of the modern definition of privacy, but I interpreted it as necessary to see if his daughter was in danger. Prospero has a good and an ugly side to him as well. He punishes Caliban frequently to keep him in line. Importantly though, most of this is justified as Caliban is definitely not an innocent creature, but I’ll get to that later. At the same time, Prospero tends to be kind and forgiving. He lets his daughter have the man she wants (something unheard of at Shakespeare’s time) and he does spare his brother. The character that he may be most similar to is Joseph from Genesis, both essentially good characters, with some flaws and a bit of a nasty side.
Caliban… as I mentioned before, he’s not innocent, but he’s not exactly a scary monster. He is most certainly a monster that should be looked down upon as he tries to violate Prospero’s daughter Miranda against her will, whose a very innocent girl that makes the audience look down upon Caliban even more. At the same time, Caliban can articulate himself… to a degree unlike Grendel whose monstrosity comes from his lack of ability to communicate. Caliban’s ability to communicate, makes him look more monstrous, because not only does he try to defend himself against Prospero’s valid accusations, it makes us able to get a better picture of his maliciousness. But for a monster whose mind is so evil… he’s comedically pathetic and there is a sense of pity for him, not a lot, but there is. His attempts, rather malicious attempts to oust Prospero turn to nothing because he can’t get the right people to help him. Also, Prospero’s killing of his mother does evoke some pity, for he’s essentially lost all that he could cal his identity. How Shakespeare was able to turn such an evil minded creature into such a comedic character… is beyond my comprehension.
Ariel, is by the far the most interesting character of this play. He’s not human… not monstrous… but he’s not exactly well… good. Extraordinarily mischievous, yet mostly loyal at the same time, Prospero’s description of him as a spirit, is the most accurate. He’s unknown, a lot like Grendel, but what we do know of him and his affiliation to Prospero makes us like him more than Caliban who we know more about, making the Tempest definition of monster different from Grendel and Grendel’s mother.
That’s all for now.